WARTBURG, Tenn. - Inmates at the newly renovated Morgan County Correctional Complex now can choose where they stay.
"If they make bad choices, they go out back," said George Little, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction, gesturing over his shoulder to the prison's just-completed maximum-security building.
"If they make better choices, they can go over there," he said, pointing at the revamped medium- and minimum-security sections of the prison, a $182 million expansion project begun in 2005.
With the new building and modifications to older ones, the prison expanded its capacity by 40 percent.
On Friday afternoon, more than 200 staff, friends and family members attended an open house and tour of the unoccupied prison buildings.
Morgan County prison opened in 1980 and housed mostly medium- or minimum-security inmates. Just 10 miles away sits the well-known Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex, which housed maximum-security inmates.
Built in 1896, Brushy Mountain inmates built the prison themselves from locally quarried limestone and timber cut from hillside forests. The prison was the second built in Tennessee and is the state's oldest operating prison.
Inmates and staff will transfer from Brushy Mountain to Morgan County before the end of the year, Brushy Mountain Warden Jim Worthington said.
Along with housing its own inmates, Morgan County now will be the classification center for all of East Tennessee, which officials hope will speed up the process of getting prisoners out of county jails and into the state prison system, relieving overcrowding on the county level.